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Democracy, in its most simplified form, refers to “government by the people”. A specific measure of democracy is the extent to which people participate in it. This article will deal in particular with participatory democracy, focused on the ways in which citizens engage in democracies. Participation can be defined as expressing one’s opinion to political decision-makers, for example through casting their vote in elections. One way to understand digital democracy is to look at the emergence of new forms of political participation and the facilitating role the internet plays. This article will shed light on the advantages of digital tools, as a means to increase political participation in a democratic system.
To begin with, internet voting is an intensely debated approach, which can arguably increase political participation. A classic form of political participation is voting in elections. As Gibson & Cantijoch argue, given the growing centrality of the digital era, traditional ways of political participation are moved to the online sphere. In this case, internet voting allows people to cast their ballot from the comfort of their own home, without having to travel to a specific location. In this way, electoral turnout could increase substantially and thus reverse the ongoing trend. On the one hand, internet voting enables a larger part of the population to express their political views as mobility is no longer an issue. For example, internet voting would facilitate disabled people to cast their ballot, as accessibility and/or assistance are oftentimes problematic in voting stations. On the other hand, the youth is likely to be attracted by this method of political participation as it requires very little active effort. Nonetheless, there is little empirical evidence at this time to demonstrate the positive effects of internet voting, given that Estonia is the only country in the world offering its citizens the possibility to vote on the internet in national elections. There is certainly potential for internet voting, but more research is needed in order to implement it more widely and reap its benefits.
Attali, J. (2020, May 28). Digital democracy [Illustration]. Attali.Com. https://www.attali.com/en/digital-democracy-2/
Secondly, the internet is opening up new ways for people to participate in political life, particularly through online communication channels. The youth is particularly targeted by such strategies of increasing political participation because the low electoral turnout for people aged 18-29 is a persistent issue across the globe. Simultaneously, the youth is particularly present and active on the internet, especially on social media platforms. In the internet age, people can more easily engage in public and political debates through online communication channels, such as social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. The platforms can foster online political discussions and create a space for young people to express their opinions. They can more easily engage online which, in turn, prompts more engagement both online and offline. In the beginning, it is usually the people already active in offline political activities that engage in online political discussion. However, in the long run, the more passive ones become more active as a result of growing online political debates. In short, following Gibson et al’s argument, the internet has a mobilization effect of political participation, which is spreading from the people already engaged in political life to those who are less active through social media channels.
Lastly, another traditional tool of democratic participation is signing petitions and it has returned in the digital era in the form of online petitions. In a globalized world, transnational issues are growing in importance and the people should have a say in the decisions of their political constituency. Petitions have a much wider reach in the digital world and they can be used as an instrument to increase political participation. Internet petitions allow people to express their opinions and demand change more easily. A remarkable tool of internet petition is available in the European Union, and it is known as the European Citizens’ Initiative. It allows citizens of the European Union’s Member States to create and support petitions, which are aimed at creating new legislation in the EU. It is an exceptionally interesting and powerful tool because it enables ordinary citizens to express their opinions and views and demand change regarding issues that might be ignored on the national level but have a significant impact on the population. The accessibility of online petitions encourages and supports democratic engagement, thus having great potential to increase political participation.
To summarize, we are living in the digital era, which entails a transition to digital democracies where political participation takes new forms that complement the old ways of democratic engagement. The internet is a facilitator when it comes to increasing political participation in democracies. Internet voting, social media and online petitions are all instruments promoting the inclusion of all people in the democratic processes.
Anduiza, E., Cantijoch, M., & Gallego, A. (2009). Political Participation and the Internet. Information, Communication & Society, 12(6), 860-878. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691180802282720
European Parliament. (2011). E-public, e-participation and e-voting in Europe - prospects and challenges. European Parliament.
Gibson, R., & Cantijoch, M. (2013). Conceptualizing and Measuring Participation in the Age of the Internet: Is Online Political Engagement Really Different to Offline?. The Journal Of Politics, 75(3), 701-716. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0022381613000431
Gibson, R., Lusoli, W., & Ward, S. (2005). Online Participation in the UK: Testing a ‘Contextualised’ Model of Internet Effects. The British Journal Of Politics And International Relations, 7(4), 561-583. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-856x.2005.00209.x
Home | European Citizens' Initiative. Europa.eu. (2021). Retrieved 11 November 2021, from https://europa.eu/citizens-initiative/_en.
Jensen, J. (2013). Political Participation Online: The Replacement and the Mobilisation Hypotheses Revisited. Scandinavian Political Studies, 36(4), 347-364. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9477.12008
Vissers, S., & Stolle, D. (2013). The Internet and new modes of political participation: online versus offline participation. Information, Communication & Society, 17(8), 937-955. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118x.2013.867356